After these four grandmothers retired, they started new careers in climate activism. Now they’re known all over Finland as the Activist Grannies.
In the Spring of 2019, Helena, Seija, Leena and Anne, along with eight others, began discussing their vision for a different kind of climate activist group. In their minds, there was a need to bring more hope, fairness and facts to the climate conversation, and start a cross-generational community of activists in Finland. What started as a germ of an idea in the Helsinki Public Library has turned into a thriving community of over 6,000 grandmothers helping to curb climate change.
We met up with four of the Activist Grannies (at a safe distance), before and after their recent visit to Finland’s Ministry of the Environment. Our conversation ranged from the group’s origin to their aspirations to “spread the Activist Granny movement across the world.”
Here are excerpts from our conversation with the Activist Grannies. They have been lightly edited and condensed for clarity.
SEIJA: When I retired I still wanted to use my knowledge, skills and network. At the same time, there was this growing discussion about the climate and a frustration that nothing was happening.
Slowly, I found people from my own social circles, a group of grannies, that were worried about climate change. We all had a huge amount of empathy for our grandchildren's future.
HELENA: There is a huge generation, the Baby Boomers, who are mostly retired and have time and skills. It would be such a waste if we didn’t use our assets to communicate to politicians, policymakers and others. We are all smart and capable.
“For us, the most important thing is reducing our grandchildren's climate anxiety. So how to reduce that? By taking care and taking action.”
ANNE: Helsingin Sanomat, the national newspaper, interviewed us. When the article was published, people started to find our Facebook page and follow us directly. There was a lot of interest.
SEIJA: We weren’t prepared for the attention, it got kind of crazy. But in the end, it was only a good thing.
HELENA: I believe that one factor behind the successful start was that we created our key messages in an inspiring way, rather than making people feel annoyed or anxious.
LEENA: We were meant to go to the Finnish Parliament to arrange a panel discussion with a large group of activist grannies, but unfortunately the coronavirus came. Once circumstances allow, we will continue to make these plans a reality.
SEIJA: For us, the most important thing is reducing our grandchildren's climate anxiety. So how to reduce that? By taking care and taking action. We have a range of professionals in the group, from media experts to psychiatrists, who are all assets for us internally. Also, we have a wide network of fantastic experts who come and speak at our events.
LEENA: We give a pair of handmade wool socks to the partners we work with. That granny spirit is always with us.
“All I want is for [my grandchildren] to live a life where they consume less but enjoy more.”
LEENA: I want to think that my young grandchildren will be able to ski in the winters, swim in the summers. All I want is for them to live a life where they consume less but enjoy more.
HELENA: This is granny wisdom from our own experiences: excessive consuming doesn’t bring happiness.
In my opinion a topic that fits perfectly to be raised by the activist grannies is clothing. No matter what age, we are buying so many unnecessary clothes. I have realized that I can wear the clothes that I already have for years.
LEENA: I often discuss the topic of having a sustainability taxation. That would make us understand that it’s a topic that is relevant for all of us and we would probably adapt to it.
ANNE: We had a nice meeting and a good discussion with the Ministry of the Environment, but obviously no decisions were made.
HELENA: Overall, I find that the reactions from policymakers and politicians have somehow been low. If we did something very radical, these people would notice us and react quicker.
SEIJA: If we had a campaign about clothing, to get reactions I guess we’d have to walk naked from the central library to the Parliament house in Helsinki. Probably would be smarter to do it in the spring.
SEIJA: We’ve thought a lot about how we want to be viewed. We are very peaceful grannies, but the danger is that if we don’t do anything “radical”, we don’t get noticed. For now we have decided to keep a businesslike relationship to the policymakers. But one thing that we have really considered, is to develop legislative proposals in order to really change things.